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Olympus E-3

>> Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The magnesium alloy body is as solidly made as ever, and now it's dust, weather and splash proof, as well. At a shade less than 2 pounds, the body weighs about as much as its midrange dSLR classmates, with similar dimensions as well. It's quite comfortable to hold, with a deep rubber grip. Like all of its competitors, the E-3 supplies the requisite front and back dials, status LCD, and plethora of direct access controls. (For more details on the body design, see the E-3 slide show.)

While shooting, the layout feels logical enough, though some of the multi button plus dial combos feel a tad old fashioned. If you want, you can bypass most of them by using the so called Super Control Panel, an increasingly popular interface for adjusting most shooting settings from a single screen. The control panel doesn't rotate when shooting vertically, however, the way it does on Sony's dSLRs.

When you cycle through each of the direct access options, they appear in the viewfinder read out even options that don't normally appear there, such as white balance or image stabilization mode which is a very nice touch. The viewfinder, too, is great large with 1.1x magnification and 100 percent scene coverage.

Combined with the 4 : 3 aspect ratio native to the Four Thirds standard of the sensor and lenses (for a 2x focal length multiplier) and its big, comfortable eyecup, the viewfinder provides the same shooting feel as a far more expensive full frame camera. On the other hand, when operating at ISO 2,000 or higher, the display blinks continuously, which can get quite annoying. In addition to the viewfinder, Olympus includes Live View mode a feature it pioneered in conjunction with Panasonic for framing via the LCD.

Though it still requires a mirror flip up for pre-focus like most of its competitors, which can slow Live View shooting considerably, the E-3 provides a couple of helpful features. For one, its flip and twist LCD makes Live View useful in situations where a fixed LCD can't cut it (such as this shot).

For another, it lets you preview the effect of the image stabilizer. (The inability to see the stabilized image remains the one advantage of optical implementations over to sensor shift.) But at 2.5 inches, the LCD is also kind of small, and not quite high resolution enough for precise manual focus.

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